Friday, March 26, 2010

review: On the Waterfront

I had seen this movie before - when I was in high school - and I did not appreciate it then. I didn't understand its brilliance at the time.
I watched it tonight - and I understood.
There is a reason why this movie is a classic. There is a reason that the "contender" scene has become ingrained in our culture. I guess it has become rather flip now - but watching this scene; its so powerful.. It is the best moment of that story. Two brothers in a secluded taxi cab arguing with life and death, pride and honor at stake. It is beautiful.
Everything in this movie is superb. It is so realistic - so gritty, so hard. The actors are so phenomenal, they just amplify the story and spark the screen. Karl Maden is the toughest priest I have ever seen, and that moment where he is asked if he was willing to go all the way is so powerful. And Lee J Cobb just explodes.
This movie is incredibly respected. It is in the National Film Registry, the Vatican included this on their list of greatest movies of all time. It was nominated for 12 Oscars, winning 8 of them - and is on 6 AFI lists.
But one of the unsung heroes in this film is the screenwriter. Yes it is beautiful acted, beautifully shot, beautifully directed, but the story came first - and Budd Schulberg gave them a wonderful story to tell. He gave them a world in which to work in, names, backgrounds, lives. Sometimes people really forget that what they see on screen is a story someone is making for them.
The political underside to this movie is interesting too. True or not, this movie does give the impression of being a parallel to Kazan's naming names in the Communist hearings. It seems like this is his attempt to explain why and how it felt for him. Not knowing the circumstances, I can't really comment on his actions. But I do think it is also interesting to note that Arthur Miller, who did not give names at these hearings, is also said to have put his views in several of his plays - one being the famous The Crucible and another being his own longshoreman story, A View From the Bridge. I can't help but think that people benefit when there are battles with art.
That aside, all I can say is this movie is one that you just have to see!
5 out of 5 stars

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